It took me a couple years of biting into many a stale and dense Hot Cross Bun for me to come to the conclusion that I just really don't like them. Most of the time, the buns turn out very unexciting in both taste and texture - more akin to last-night's dinner rolls rather than a fresh breakfast pastry. Of course they are traditionally eaten on Good Friday so perhaps the secret purpose of eating these buns is to serve as a penance of sorts. Either way, I very much appreciate the tradition and symbolism behind the making of Hot Cross Buns, just not the results of most recipes I have tried over the years.
This Holy Week, I decided to make Hot Cross Buns again, only this time I would take a completely non-traditional approach and just make what I think a sweet morning bun should taste like. Paul and I decided to completely abstain from eating on Good Friday, so after I no longer had the distraction of children to keep my mind off my hunger, I decided to spend the hours after bedtime making these rolls. I timed it just right so that I would be able to "sample" my creation when they emerged from the oven shortly after midnight. What a great way to celebrate the end of our fast!
For the buns, I used the sweet dough from my favorite cinnamon roll recipe and amped up the flavor a bit by incorporating orange zest into the sugar until the sweet citrus oils were released. Then, I threw in a generous couple handfuls of dried cranberries and white chocolate. I omitted cinnamon, a spice added to more traditional recipes for Hot Cross Buns, but I'm sure it could still be included if so desired with pleasant results. The dough enjoyed a luxurious two-hour rise before being shaped and set aside to rise once more. Because of the amount of sugar in the dough, the rising process will be a little slower than for leaner doughs. Don't rush the process! The longer rises just mean more developed flavor and a softer, more pillowy dough texture in the end!
After the second rise, the buns were ready for to bake! While they browned, my kitchen smelled like heaven. After they finally emerged, it was really hard to resist biting into a piping hot roll - and scalding my mouth in the process! I distracted myself by making an orange glaze to use for piping crosses onto the cooled rolls. I had to beat Paul away from the glaze with my whisk - he could not resist eating it. He might have been a bit rabid from hunger at this point, but the glaze is really very good! The next morning, Matthew even requested extra glaze be applied to his roll. Apparently, I was too stingy with it!
In the end, these were the best Hot Cross Buns I have ever had. The white chocolate melts into the dough, imparting a pleasant, creamy, vanilla flavor to the dough that pairs so well with the orange zest and cranberries. Even if you're not a fan of white chocolate, I implore you to give this combination a chance! The kids were obsessed with the buns - Matthew especially. He declared them the best thing I ever made. I have to agree that they are pretty fantastic. Certainly too good to enjoy only once a year. We'll be making these again soon.
Hot Cross Buns with White Chocolate and Orange
For the Dough:
2 cups whole milk (do not use anything less than 2%)
1 stick butter
2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 Orange
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 large eggs
5 1/2 - 6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup white chocolate
For the Glaze:
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons orange zest
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Pinch of Salt
Additional powdered sugar as needed
In a small bowl, rub the orange zest and sugar together with your fingertips until the oils of the orange are released and become very fragrant. Set aside.
Heat the milk in a medium saucepan until the milk is very warm and bubbles have formed around the outside. Pour the milk into the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.
Add the butter, sugar and salt. Mix until the butter is melted and let the mixture cool until warm but not hot.Add the yeast and eggs and mix until combined.
Gradually add the flour until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. The dough should be soft and just slightly sticky without leaving a lot of residue on your fingers. Add the cranberries and white chocolate and knead to incorporate. Continue to knead for 5-10 minutes or until the dough is soft, pillowy, and bounces back slightly when pressed or squeezed.
Transfer the dough to a large, lightly greased bowl. Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled. This might take a bit of time - I let mine rise for about two hours.
After the first rise, punch the dough down and separate it into 12-16 even pieces, depending on how big you want your finished rolls to be. Roll each piece into a ball and place on a parchment-lined half sheet pan. Cover with parchment and let rise once more until puffy and doubled. This took a little less time than the first rise.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the rolls for 18-22 minutes, or until golden. I like to brush mine with a beaten egg yolk halfway through baking to impart a more golden hue to the buns. When finished, remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack before glazing.
To make the glaze, whisk together all the ingredients until smooth. Add more powdered sugar or liquid until you reach the consistency you desire. Pipe crosses over the top of the buns or simply spoon the glaze all over.
Serve and try not to eat the whole pan.